Dance Band Encyclopaedia
Lopez and his Orchestra visited England in 1925, having been booked to
play at the Kit-Cat Club, London when it opened in May of that year.
Perhaps a brief look at Lopez’ career prior to this event might not be
out of place. He was born on 30th December, 1898 in Brooklyn, New York.
The Lopez family were Portuguese immigrant stock, and Vincent’s father
eked out a somewhat precarious living as a music teacher. Vincent was
expected to learn the piano from the age of six, to practice for at
least four hours a day, and play only “serious” music. On one
occasion he was discovered by his father playing “Cannonball Rag”,
which led to a severe caning and extra church attendance for a week!
Lopez Senior’s real ambition was for his son to become a priest, thus
at the age of twelve the young boy entered a seminary for this purpose.
However Lopez Jnr. soon discovered that music was his real interest in
life, and within three years he had left the seminary, and was the
relief pianist at Claytons Restaurant. Other, similar work followed
until he obtained a job at the Pekin, a well-known Broadway nightspot.
The departure of the bandleader there led to Lopez being asked to take
charge of the resident orchestra. After the success of the Original
Dixieland Jazz Band at Reisenwebers, he formed a new five-piece band of
his own to play at the Pekin. This was later called Lopez and
Hamilton’s Kings of Harmony, Billy Hamilton being the clarinet player.
They went on to appear in a Broadway show with great success; by 1925 a
larger “Vincent Lopez and his Orchestra” had already enjoyed a
lengthy residency at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York.
band was booked to come here (England) by William Morris, head of the
William Morris Agency, a major booking agent in the USA. Morris at this
time had the sole US agency for booking artists and bands at both the
Kit-Cat Club and the Piccadilly Hotel. According to Vincent Lopez’
book, Lopez Speaking, he was initially reluctant to take this booking,
being aware of opposition to American musicians working in England.
However, he was offered the sum of £1200 per week for this two-month
engagement. In addition to playing at the Kit-Cat, Lopez and his band
would also appear at the Capitol Cinema Theatre.
this was clearly a worthwhile visit from a financial point of view,
Lopez had other reasons for agreeing to it. Being one of those
bandleaders who spent money as fast as he earned it, he was in trouble
with some of his creditors. He could not afford to turn down such an
offer, the more so as it would take him out of America at an opportune
band and Lopez left New York on 1st. May, 1925, aboard the
“Leviathan”. Their departure was not entirely trouble-free. Lopez
was tipped off in advance that some of his creditors might be intending
to seize the band instruments. These were therefore hastily re-packed
into crates labelled “Gear Machinery”, “China -Handle With Care”
and “Typewriters -This Side Up”! Lopez himself boarded the ship at
5.OOam on the morning of departure, and took good care not to emerge
from Billy Hamilton’s cabin and take up his own until the three mile
limit had been passed.
William Morris had already gone ahead to England, and cabled Lopez that evening:
EXISTED STOP THEY WILL PAY TWELVE HUNDRED POUNDS ONLY IF YOU ALSO APPEAR
IN “BY THE WAY” HIT SHOW STARRING JACK HULBERT AND CECILY COURTRIDGE
(sic) STOP CABLE ME IF THIS ALTERS YOUR ACCEPTANCE OF DATE”.
Lopez’ own words. . .“What were we going to do -jump overboard with
our instruments and swim back to New York?”
appears that the band did play one or two concerts during the voyage,
and some time was also spent in rehearsal of “God Save The King.”
“Leviathan” duly docked at Southampton on the following 8th May, and
the Passenger List ( BT 26/827) shows the members of the band as listed
below. I have listed in brackets their ages, and instruments where known.
(23) (trumpet) LOPEZ, Vincent
(Billy) Hamilton did not appear to have been listed, although clearly he
was on board. As with Will Blackson below, he may have been entered
under a real, rather than professional, name. Being at that time still a
British subject, Bob Effros was listed amongst the English passengers.
Most of the musicians gave their address in England as “Capitol
Theatre, London”, although Lopez gave his as “Piccadilly Hotel,
London”. One or two of the others simply gave “c/o American Express,
London.” Lopez himself refers to one of his trumpet players as “Will
Blackson”. I cannot find this name on the Passenger Lists, but it may
be the professional name of one of the four listed above.
an aside, Blackson at one point in the voyage was found by Lopez to be
attempting to push Cugat through a porthole, Blackson being rather drunk
at the time!)
the other musicians, Morris Kellner may be the real name of Murray
Kellner, who was a violinist. Joseph Goldstein is probably Joe Gold, and
Biagio Napoli is likely to be George Napoleon.
Eino Swan is the same person as Einar Swan, later composer of the well-known popular tune "When Your Lover Has Gone". Though a multi-instrumentalist, it seems his main instruments were the reed family (i.e. clarinet & saxophone) rather than the trumpet as shown in the current discographies. (My thanks to Fredrik Tersmeden for the information on Swan).
M.T. Comments: Joseph Griffith could be singer Joe Griffiths. Among the other musicians are, presumably, a trombonist and banjoist.
The Lopez band continued their journey by train to London, arriving at Waterloo station the same day. There they were met and greeted by Jack Hylton, and most of his musicians. The stationmaster had apparently insisted that no music be played, but William Morris arranged for the railway officials to be taken down to the other end of the station, on the pretext of a discussion. The Lopez band then lined up, and started to play the National Anthem. Lopez no doubt regarded this as good manners, but the effect it caused was probably more than he had expected. The entire station ground to a halt, with everyone standing rigidly to attention! Apparently most people thought the King had arrived, on his way to open some Exhibition.
to be outdone, the Hylton band then launched into “The Star Spangled
Banner”. Sadly, they had not properly rehearsed this tune, and were
clearly in difficulties about halfway through, the Lopez band having to
finish the piece for them.
Pathe film clip exists of this event; although silent, it largely bears
out the above description.)
same night, Lopez attended the Hylton band’s performance at the
Alhambra, and sent a large floral tribute over the footlights. In
response Hylton made a speech of welcome and pointed to where Lopez sat
in a box, which elicited applause from the audience.
above description comes from Variety dated 13th May, 1925, which went on
Hylton‘s welcome to Lopez was a severe blow to the English musical
union which is constantly fighting the American invasion.
will be seen in future articles, opposition to American bands and
musicians was very real in this country, well before the “shut-down”
in about 1930. As will also be seen, the support of such as Jack Hylton
could go quite some way to ensuring a trouble-free visit.
Lopez band commenced work on Monday, 11th May, giving two performances
at the Capitol Theatre, followed by playing matinee and evening
performances in Jack Hulbert’s Revue “By The Way” at the Apollo.
On the first day at the Capitol, the Lopez outfit included in their
programme a “jazzed up” version of the music from the Gilbert and
Sullivan opera “HMS Pinafore”. The following afternoon Messrs. Bull
and Bevan, solicitors, called on Lopez to advise him this was a breach
of copyright. Apparently Herbert Sullivan, grandson of Sir Arthur, held
the copyright to this music, and was prepared to sue anyone who played
it other than from the original scores.
final appearance of the day was at the opening of the Kit-Cat Club.
Originally a Gentleman's Club formed in about 1700, the Kit-Cat had been
extensively re-furbished to become the most expensive night-club in
London. Occupying the two lower floors of the Capitol, it included a
main ballroom, grill room, writing room, balcony and an American bar.
The ballroom was said to be able to accommodate 400 couples in comfort,
and the dance floor could be standard or “sprung” as required. That
most of London society turned up on the opening night can be judged by
the management reserving two long tables for Royalty alone. At 11:00pm
the Duke of Marlborough formally opened the club, and presented Lopez
with a silver baton. Lopez first took his band through both National
Anthems, and then swung into “Sweet Georgia Brown” and other dance
tunes until 2.00am. Cabaret was provided in the intervals by Aileen
Stanley. (It seems that on the opening night at least, only the Lopez
band and Miss Stanley were performing. The Kit-Cat band, led by Al
Starita, do not seem to have been used.)
the Kit-Cat engagement was successful, appearances at the Capitol were
not as well attended, since the management refused to do any special
advertising, or indeed post any playbills about the band. The management
of the Apollo in turn professed itself as content with the amount of
business “By The Way” was doing, and (quite understandably) was not
prepared to advertise the band more than the stars of the show.
Morris, as Lopez’ agent, was extremely annoyed at the attitude of the
Capitol management. When the show “Better Days” closed at the
Hippodrome, Morris asked the Capitol to release the band from its
contract there. He then put them into a new show at the Hippodrome;
other acts included Borra Minnevitch, a harmonica player who had just
arrived from New York, Tony and Nina De Marco (dancers), Aileen Stanley
and the Stanton Brothers.
show opened during the hottest spell ever known for June in London.
Morris, who had clearly offered some form of guarantee, went off to
Paris for a couple of days, fully expecting to return to a demand for a
substantial cheque from the Hippodrome management. To his astonishment,
he in turn was handed a large cheque for his share of the profits, the
weather having got suddenly colder in his absence.
of this activity was duly reported in Variety, which also stated the
band had been booked by the Kit-Cat to appear again in June, 1926. I can
find no evidence this visit took place, unless it was by a band under
Lopez’ direction. Like Paul Whiteman and Paul Specht, Lopez had
“satellite” bands which worked under the management of Lopez
Incorporated, a company set up for the purpose.
completed all theft engagements the band sailed for New York on the S.
S. “Paris” on the 8th July, 1925. (According to his book, Lopez
sailed with the band, but the “Sailings” column in Variety for 8th
July shows Vincent Lopez and band as being aboard the “Paris”,
whilst there is another entry for 4th July showing Lopez alone as
sailing on the “Berengaria”. Maybe his original intention was to
return a few days ahead of the band.)
Speaking”; Vincent Lopez. (Citadel Press, New York 1960.)
Lopez' band, c1924 prior to their England visit.